Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) runs past LSU Tigers linebacker Duke Riley (40) for an 11 yard gain late in the fourth quarter at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. November 5, 2016. Photo by AJ Sisco/UPI | License Photo
BATON ROUGE, La. -- It was ugly, but in Nick Saban's world of performance-based metrics -- where there is winning or there is misery -- it was a thing of old-school beauty.
For three quarters on Saturday night before 102,231 at Tiger Stadium, No. 1 Alabama and No. 13 LSU played defense and coveted field position the way football used to be played in grainy, black-and-white Movietone newsreels.
And then, in the fourth quarter, Alabama freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts finally broke free of LSU's defensive vise, running 21 yards for the game's first touchdown and set up the clinching 25-yard field goal by Adam Griffith with a pair of timely runs to lift the Crimson Tide to a 10-0 victory.
The victory, Alabama's 21st without a loss, improved the Tide to 9-0 (6-0 SEC) this season.
"We didn't score for three quarters; they didn't score for four," Saban said, praising a defense that yielded only six first downs, including just one in the second half, and 125 yards in total offense. "It was a tough atmosphere for us out there, but our defense was outstanding."
For the second straight year, Alabama turned LSU running back Leonard Fournette into a pin cushion. Even though the Tigers tried to spread the field and throw the ball with quarterback Danny Etling to loosen up the Alabama defense, Alabama's front seven physically whipped the LSU offensive line.
Etling frequently had no time to scan the field, and when he did, he threw behind receivers because he was anticipating getting hit. After holding Fournette to 31 yards on 19 carries in a 30-16 victory last year in Tuscaloosa, the Tide defense did it again, limiting him to 35 yards on 17 carries.
"There were some things we thought we could block well, and obviously we didn't," said LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron. "We're very disappointed in the execution. There's no question we could have made some changes at the line of scrimmage. We were just out of sync. We had some trouble getting the play called right and trouble getting the protection called right."
In a game featuring sideline-to-sideline defensive pursuit and one-Mississippi pass rush, Hurts was the difference. The true freshman gained 114 yards on 20 carries, with 72 yards coming in the second half when Alabama finally wore down the Tigers' valiant front seven. Hurts also passed for 107 yards, but he won this game with his feet.
"He made some errors early in the game that were costly, and he made some plays at the end that his athleticism allowed him to make," Saban said. "I think as we grow with him, we're going to have to live with both, and I like the second part better than the first. I think he's a great competitor. He never loses his poise."
The teams had combined for 13 punts and two missed field goals in the scoreless tie before Alabama took over at its own 10-yard line late in the third quarter.
After running back Josh Jacobs was nailed for a 5-yard loss on first down, Hurts connected with wide receiver Miller Forristall, alone on the right sidelines, for a 22-yard gain, moving the Crimson Tide away from their goal-line.
The drive got another spark from an unsportsmanlike conduct call against LSU linebacker Devin White, who tackled Hurts on the sidelines, giving Bama a first down at the 47.
On third-and-9 from the LSU 21, Hurts rolled to his right and then cut it up the middle of the field for the score, putting Alabama up 7-0 with 13:08 left.
The Crimson Tide got the clinching score with 2:41 left on Griffith's chip shot field goal. Hurts ran for 23 and 11 yards on the 15-play, 50-yard drive.
Saban may have made it harder on himself than he should have. He passed up a chip-shot field goal in the third quarter that would have given Alabama a 3-0 lead. But on fourth-goal from the LSU 1, safety Jamal Adams, linebacker Kendall Beckwith and linebacker Duke Riley, who dropped Hurts for a 5-yard loss, keeping the game scoreless for the time being.
But LSU's offense could do nothing against the Alabama defense. The Tigers (5-3, 3-2) accounted for just 25 yards in total offense the second half.
The scoreless first half showcased two incredibly fast and physical defenses, bringing to mind the 2011, five-field goal game in which LSU won 9-6 in overtime in Tuscaloosa. In its first six drives, Alabama's average field position was its own 13-yard line.
LSU had the best chance to break through in the first half, wasting an interception at the Crimson Tide 33-yard line by safety Jamal Adams on Alabama's opening drive. But LSU was able to run only three plays for 1 yard, and kicker Colby Delahoussaye's 49-yard field-goal attempt was tipped at the line by Alabama defensive back Ronnie Harrison and fell harmlessly in the end zone.
NOTES: LSU had eight punts and six first downs. ... Alabama held LSU to a 2.3-yard average on first down. ... Alabama defeated LSU for the sixth consecutive time. ... LSU was shut out at home for the first time since 2002. ... Did he have tickets to the game? A man wearing an Alabama Crimson Ride baseball cap robbed a bank in New Orleans Saturday. ... Two Bama fans broke into Tiger Stadium Friday night and tried to gouge the midfield logo of the "Eye of the Tiger," but the purple-and-gold symbol was repaired before kickoff. ... Former LSU DBs Patrick Peterson and Tyranny Mathieu joined the team on the field for warmups. Peterson and Mathieu donated money for Baton Rouge flood victims.